|City needs to start over on juvenile jail, official says|
|Tuesday, 22 May 2012 10:47|
By Michael Martz for the Richmond-Times Dispatch
RICHMOND, Va. --Richmond's top official for justice services said the city needs to "go back to square one" before it considers reopening the juvenile detention center that Mayor Dwight C. Jones closed abruptly last month.
David M. Hicks, senior policy adviser to the mayor and interim director of justice services, said Richmond must decide whether it wants its own detention center or whether it can do better for less money in a regional or private facility.
"I think we need to rebuild the system from scratch," he told Richmond City Council's Public Safety Committee on Monday.
Hicks spoke bluntly about his concerns over the lack of reliable information about the cost of housing an average of 39 juveniles a day in the detention center the city opened in 1996.
"I can't answer the question of what we spent per child per day under our system because I do not know," said the former Richmond commonwealth's attorney, whom Jones made interim director of justice services after Charles J. Kehoe resigned the day Richmond surrendered its state license to operate the center.
The public safety committee delayed consideration of a proposal to create a new public commission to oversee the juvenile detention center because its sponsor, Councilman Charles R. Samuels, wasn't present at the meeting.
Hicks said an advisory group might be helpful, but he urged the council to first consider what kind of detention facility the city needs to house juveniles detained by the Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court, and whether the city should run it.
He said the city should make the decision by mid-September so it can prepare to either request state approval to reopen the center next year or take a different path, such as joining a regional commission for juvenile justice or privatizing the service.
Councilman E. Martin Jewell agreed with Hicks' proposed approach. "We've got a golden opportunity to make sure we do it right," he said.
Council President Kathy C. Graziano said the council first needs all of the facts about what went wrong at the center, which had been put on state probation for the second time in three years. Hicks promised a full report in July.
Warning about new jail
Hicks also sounded a warning about Richmond's new jail, which is scheduled to open in early 2014 with fewer beds than the current, overcrowded jail in the city's East End.
The new jail will depend on a series of programs to reduce incarceration, primarily of people with mental health and substance-abuse problems, as well as those being prosecuted for non-violent offenses.
"If on July 1 next year we don't have something up and running and embraced by the judges, we're in trouble," Hicks told the committee.
A proposal pending before the council would create a new commission to consider alternatives to incarceration, but Hicks said Richmond has not effectively used an existing board that includes three judges, the commonwealth's attorney, the chief of police, sheriff, chief magistrate, public defender and other key officials in the city's criminal justice system.
The Community Criminal Justice Board was created under state law, but its members have said "they have not been as involved as they would like to be in this process," he said. "That is something that is of extreme concern to me."
"The first step is to make sure we utilize the commission we already have," he said. "It's not being used."
Jones has put Hicks in charge of the search for alternatives to incarceration in his capacity as interim director of justice services. Hicks will report directly to the mayor instead of through Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Carolyn N. Graham, who has overseen the department.
Jewell said the success of the new jail will depend on coming up with alternatives that judges will use.
"If the judges don't buy it, we're in trouble," he said.